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How to Protect Honey Bees from Yellow Jackets

Honey bee pests are a constant problem for many beekeepers. Particularly for new beekeepers, they can be very challenging and heartbreaking. One of these pests that can cause problems to beekeepers is the yellow jacket wasp. If a beekeeper does not identify the pest early, yellow jackets can quickly destroy a thriving honey bee colony. It is imperative for beekeepers to know how to protect honey bees from yellow jackets in order to save them from the stress of dealing with a yellow jacket invasion. Remember that yellow jackets are considered useful in crop agriculture, so focus on controlling the population of yellow jackets only around your apiary.

What are Yellow Jackets?

Yellow jackets are an invasive pest of honey bees. The wasp can cause a lot of damage in a short span of time. In a severe invasion, yellow jackets will destroy your honey bee colony so you will have to start all over. Beekeepers can avoid this if they know how to protect honey bees from yellow jackets. This starts with early identification of yellow jackets, analyzing if they are going to be a problem and controlling their population around your apiary. Use these detailed methods and preventive measures to keep your apiary protected from an attack by yellow jacket wasps.

Yellow jackets are social insects of the wasp and hornet family. They mostly live in underground nests. Other places you may find nests of some yellow jacket species are on shrubs, in trees, and in sheltered and protected spaces such as cavities. Yellow jackets wasps are black and yellow in color. They are distinguished from bees by their thin waist.

These wasps are aggressive and predatory. Yellow jacket wasps fly in a characteristic side to side pattern just before landing. The wasps largely leave bees alone when there is plenty of food. During shortages, yellow jackets invade beehives in search of food. This happens in autumn when food supply dwindles. Yellow jackets feed meat to their young while adults eat sugary and carbohydrate-laden foods. The larvae of honey bees and other insects are a rich food for the yellow jacket brood. Yellow jackets often strike at roughly the same time that robber bees may attack your beehive.

How Yellow Jacket Wasps Affect Honey Bees

In a beehive, yellow jacket wasps eat honey and destroy honeycomb, kill adult bees, eat honey bee eggs and chew up honey bee brood to feed to their larvae. Beekeepers have reported yellow jackets even killing the queen bee in a honey bee colony. It is not clear if the yellow jackets can identify the queen or if they killed the queen bees randomly as if they were killing any other bee in the hive. The result of a yellow jacket invasion in a beehive is quick destruction of the honey bee colony. In a few hours, the entire honey bee colony can be left without brood and its honey reserve all destroyed or eaten up. After the invasion, most honey bee colonies abandon the beehive in search of a new place to rebuild the colony.

What Attracts Yellow Jackets to Beehives?

Dwindling food resources in the environment make yellow jackets invade beehives. The smell of honey is a great attractant for these insects. Pheromones produced by bees may also give away the location of a beehive to yellow jacket wasps. Make sure to clear dead bees from near your beehive. They may be noticed by foraging yellow jackets and lead to an attack in the future. Feeding stations outside the beehive may also attract yellow jackets which then notice the nearby beehive. It is best to place bee feeding stations inside the beehive in autumn.

How to Prevent Yellow Jackets from Entering Beehives

Beekeepers may use different measures to prevent yellow jackets from entering the beehive such as:

  1. Entrance reduction
  2. Using bait and traps

The methods used can be used together or exclusively.

1. Entrance Reduction

Entrance reduction is one method that beekeepers may use with weak colonies that are susceptible to yellow jacket attacks. Fewer entrances to guard provide increased effectiveness for honey bees to guard the entrances to the beehive. This also works for protecting young or newly installed honey bee colonies from yellow jackets.

2. Using Bait and Traps

Using traps is another method used to prevent yellow jackets entering their beehives and causing destruction. These traps are baited and may kill yellow jackets or hold them captive until you decide to kill them yourself. Freezing the trapped yellow jackets overnight will definitely kill them. You can then empty the trap and set it again. Traps should be placed around your apiary or near a yellow jacket nest.

Using soapy water is one way to kill yellow jackets. Trapping the insects also leads to their death from exhaustion. Traps that kill yellow jackets by exhaustion accumulate the dead in them. The floating mass of dead may provide a life-raft to other yellow jackets. It is therefore important that beekeepers check their yellow jacket traps regularly and empty out the dead. During the inspection, the beekeeper can also add bait or replace it if it has fermented.

Yellow jacket traps that use soapy water are generally homemade. They can be wide at the top to prevent the amassing of dead yellow jackets. The traps are very effective and can catch many yellow jackets in a short span of time. The traps make use of meat bait as an attractant. Chicken meat is the best bait to use. It draws yellow jackets into the trap and they fall into the soapy water when they try to fly off with bitten off chunks of meat, after which they eventually drown.

Protecting Honey Bees from Yellow Jackets – Controlling Populations

Protect Honey Bees from Yellow Jackets - Controlling Populations

Controlling yellow jacket populations is an important step towards keeping your bees safe from these pests. By keeping the population of yellow jackets down, you reduce the likelihood that the yellow jackets will suffer a shortage of food in the environment and attack your honey bee colonies. Additionally, a small population of yellow jackets is not strong enough to attack a honey bee colony. It is repelled by the bees guarding the hive.

Using Yellow Jacket Traps

You can protect honey bees from yellow jackets by utilizing traps. By killing yellow jackets in traps, you reduce the number of yellow jackets available to attack your beehive. Traps should be placed out in early spring as that is when they start reproducing. The queen yellow jacket wasp is also out during this time foraging. Beekeepers should aim to trap queen yellow jacket wasps in spring before they can lay eggs or feed her first batch of larvae. With no eggs laid in a yellow jacket nest or with larvae being unfed, the number of yellow jackets in the area is kept adequately low. There are commercially available yellow jacket traps and DIY traps that beekeepers make. Commercially available traps can be reusable or disposable after a single instance of use trapping yellow jackets.

Using Bait

In order to protect honey bees from yellow jackets using traps, you need bait. Meat is used in some DIY traps, as yellow jackets feed their young with meat. Raw chicken meat works very well with DIY traps. In commercially sold yellow jacket traps, the bait used varies. The trap may come with its own bait or require the beekeeper to buy bait separately. There are also manufacturers of beekeeping equipment and materials that sell replacement bait for when your trap needs refilling. Most commercially sold bait is in liquid form. It is prepared to mimic the smell of honey. The major types of yellow jacket traps are bottle traps and basin traps. DIY bottle traps are perhaps the most common among beekeepers. They are effective and inexpensive to make. The traps can be placed near the yellow jacket nest or within your apiary.

Using Pesticides

Using pesticides is very controversial, particularly if you are a beekeeper. However, it is a option that can be used to control populations and protect honey bees from yellow jackets, however it is not the most ideal. When using pesticides, beekeepers should identify yellow jacket nests in their area and spray them. You should ensure that the yellow jacket wasps are in the nest before you start spraying so as to kill the entire nest or as many as you can. This makes application of insecticides and pesticides for yellow jacket control most suited for the evening or night as yellow jackets are inactive when it gets cold – they all fly back to their respective nests for the night.

Do not plug the entrance of the nest when you apply a pesticide. This allows for yellow jackets that were out foraging to come back to the nest and get into contact with the pesticide you applied.

Note: Make sure that the pesticide you apply to kill yellow jackets does not come into contact with your honey bees. Most pesticides that can kill yellow jackets can also affect honey bees. You should also wear protective clothing and safety gear when applying pesticides. Be sure to read and follow the instructions label that comes with your purchase of pesticide.

Attacking the Nest Environmentally

An innovative and environmental-friendly way to kill and protect honey bees from yellow jackets is to seal the pests in their nest, pour boiling water into the nest, or pour soapy water into the nest. These work for yellow jackets that have built their nests in the ground. Wait for the late evening, night, or work very early in the morning when all yellow jackets are in the nest you have identified. Some beekeepers also pour molasses into the yellow jacket nest they have identified for population control. The molasses traps the yellow jackets due to its thickness. Fill the nest with molasses to the top so it can also seal the yellow jackets in the nest.

Take Caution

Light attracts yellow jackets like most other insects. When heading out to the yellow jacket nest to kill them, do not bring a light. If you must, turn it off as soon as you reach the nest. Keeping the light on will draw the yellow jackets to you and they will sting you. If you keep the light on for too long and you notice the yellow jackets coming out of the nest, switch off the light and walk away some few meters. Once the light is switched off, you will generally be safe.

How to Locate Yellow Jacket Nests

Protect Honey Bees from Yellow Jackets - Locating Nests

Identifying yellow jackets is important in protecting honey bees colonies. After proper identification, you have to locate the nest so you can destroy it. Finding the yellow jacket nest is not easy. Without help of assistive measures, you may take too long before locating the nest. Beekeepers looking for yellow jacket nests may use powdered sugar to to help them locate. Yellow jackets do not forage very far from their nests. So if you find the pests bothering your apiary, chances are that their nest is about 1100 feet away.

Yellow jackets that are out foraging should be tracked into their respective nests. It is best to do this in the early morning or evening. Dust the yellow jackets with powdered sugar or flour so that they are easy to follow. When you find the nest, you can mark it and later come to apply your preferred yellow jacket population control method.

Steps to Locate a Yellow Jacket Nest

  1. Prepare some powdered sugar in a clear plastic cup. You may optionally use a glass cup. Have with you a cover that can go over the top of the cup. The cover should be thick enough to protect you against a yellow jacket sting.
  2. Next, add some of your flour or confectioners’ sugar into the cup. You may do this after catching the yellow jacket, but you risk it escaping.
  3. Head out to your apiary or where you have seen yellow jackets.
  4. Catch a yellow jacket wasp in your cup and shake it up a bit. This coats the yellow jacket in sugar or flour.
  5. You should then let it go and follow it. The yellow jacket will fly back to the nest. The powdered sugar or flour makes it easier for your eyes to see the yellow jacket in flight. It also helps distinguish the yellow jacket from other flying insects and honey bees. Usually, you have to do this with a few yellow jackets before you find the nest.

An insect catcher net is great for use catching yellow jackets for use in tracking to the nest. Wear gloves too so they do not sting you as you are handling them. Keep in mind that yellow jackets can sting repeatedly unlike honeybees. Additionally, the sting of one yellow jacket informs other jackets of an enemy and they will want to come sting you too.

Making Yellow Jacket Bait

Reusable yellow jacket traps using bait require beekeepers to refill them or replace bait periodically. The time that lapses before a trap requires addition or replacement of bait will of course vary by the trap used. You will know if your yellow jacket traps need more bait when you check on them, which you should do regularly. You may buy replacement bait that is prepared and sold by various manufacturers. Beekeepers can also prepare their own yellow jacket trap bait.

Here is a simple recipe for the preparation of bait for yellow jacket traps:

You will need some sugar, apple cider vinegar, a mixing container, water, a knife and banana peels.

To make the yellow jacket bait, follow the following procedure:

  • Put 4 cups of water in a mixing container and add ¼ cup of sugar. Shake well or stir until the sugar dissolves.
  • Add 1 cup of the apple cider vinegar to your mixture of sugar and water.
  • Cut and chop up one banana peel.
  • Put your mixture of water, sugar and vinegar in a bottle. Add the chopped up pieces of banana peels in the bottle.
  • Cap the bottle and wait 2-3 days for the mixture to start fermenting.

The fermented mixture forms your yellow jacket bait. Do not sieve out banana peel pieces before using the bait in a trap. Add a little water to the mixture to slow down fermentation in the trap so the bait lasts longer. The smell of decaying fruit is very attractive to yellow jackets.

Meat bait is also effective in luring yellow jacket wasps to traps. Chicken meat is the best to use as bait for yellow jackets. Make sure that the meat you use is always fresh. Remove and replace any spoilt meat daily or every 2 days. Yellow jackets do not eat spoilt meat.

Other baits for yellow jackets that may be used include: beer, orange juice, sugary soda, jam and fruits high in sugar content. The idea is that anything sweet with a strong smell will lure yellow jacket wasps to a trap. Beekeepers using these alternative baits and lures report varying degrees of effectiveness.

Different Bait for Different Seasons

These described baits for yellow jackets are suited for use during different seasons. In spring and early summer, yellow jackets are in need of foods that have high protein content. This is the best time to use meat bait in your traps. It is more effective than the liquid sugary bait. In late summer and in autumn, yellow jackets are then more likely to go for sugary bait. They are looking for foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugars in this period.

Do Yellow Jackets Die in Winter?

Yellow jacket wasp colonies are annual. Inseminated queens are able to overwinter to start new colonies in spring. All workers and drones die in winter. The overwintering queen yellow jacket can be found in hollow logs, in leaf litter, under bark and in other cavities and man-made structures.

The overwintered yellow jacket queen emerges in spring when it is warm enough. She selects a location for her nest, makes some small paper nest and lays up to 60 eggs. She then feeds the larvae from the hatched eggs for up to 20 days. Once the larvae pupate, they emerge as unfertilized workers. They take over feeding other larvae present in the nest. This frees up the queen yellow jacket to remain in the nest for the rest of her lifetime. The queen cannot overwinter again. She dies in autumn, but other new queens from her nest will overwinter. Trapping the queen yellow jacket after she emerges in spring makes sure that her nest dies. It is more effective than trapping worker yellow jackets later in the year when they become a menace.

After the first few workers emerge, a yellow jacket nest expands rapidly. It can reach 5000 workers quickly. At this time, there are several queens in the nest. The yellow jackets make reproductive cells that result in new queens and males. Queens accumulate fat reserves that will help them overwinter. In autumn, the males mate with the new queens. The males then die while the newly fertilized queens seek out places to overwinter.

A Final Word – Can Honey Bees Fight Yellow Jackets?

Honey bees guard the beehive from intruders. They use various methods including stinging and crowding. Bees in a strong colony are better at guarding the beehive – their numbers alone are effective against yellow jacket invasions. However, bees in a weak colony cannot effectively guard all hive entrances and as such are more susceptible to a yellow jacket attack. In its prime, a yellow jacket nest can have up to 5,000 workers. A large portion of these workers attacking a single beehive at once is sure to cause a lot of damage to the honeybee colony even if it is repulsed.

Beekeepers that do not protect their honey bee colonies from yellow jackets may not be aware when the yellow jackets attack. The beekeepers visit their beehive for regular inspection and find a mass of dead honey bees, a few dead yellow jackets, and the honey bee colony having abandoned the beehive. Even with a repulsed attack, the damage done is often too much for weak honey bee colonies to recover from.

If you find that there has been a yellow jacket attack in your apiary, there are a number of things you should immediately do. It is great to help your bees with cleaning the beehive. Sweep out dead bees from the beehive. This helps keep the beehive clean and reduces the chances of decomposing bees causing an increase in yeasts and other microorganisms in the beehive. Look under and around the beehive that was under attack and remove any dead bees you find on the ground. This prevents ants and other predators from finding the bees and eventually attacking your honey bee colony again.

Feeding a honey bee colony that was attacked by yellow jackets can help them recover. It also keeps the bees from absconding and helps the bees regain their colony defensive strength by allowing formation of drone brood.

What method(s) do you use to protect honey bees from yellow jackets? How effective were they? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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